Reacting to The New York Times’ story that White House Counsel Don McGahn has been speaking with Robert Mueller’s team, President Donald Trump tweeted out that McGahn is not a “John Dean type ‘RAT,’” and that the story was “fake news.”
It’s odd that Trump should bring up Dean this weekend, for it was only this week that we also learned Trump has an enemies list, just like Richard Nixon did. Unlike Nixon, though, the president is hiding nothing—using security clearances and his Twitter account as the chief weapons with which to go after his opponents.
This is a dangerous move.
Nixon’s enemies list, officially called his “opponents list,” was a document that was initially compiled by the presidential adviser George T. Bell for Charles Colson, the infamous “hatchet man.” Colson turned over the list to Dean, the White House counsel, on September 9, 1971. The list, which at first included 20 names, was a compilation of figures from all walks of life, ranging from the actor Paul Newman (“Radic-Lib causes … Heavy McCarthy involvement ’68”) to journalists such as Mary McGrory and Daniel Schorr (a “real media enemy”) to politicians like the African American legislators Ron Dellums and John Conyers (“a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman”) to the labor leader Leonard Woodcock, the president of the United Automobile Workers. The New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath even made the document.
The goal of the enemies list was to highlight and target some of the president’s most pesky critics. The document described “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”
The White House attempted to use numerous tactics to go after these figures. The Internal Revenue Service turned to audits as a method of harassment, while federal contracts became a tool to punish other perceived enemies of the state. In one “eyes only” memo, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported in The Washington Post, Colson wrote: “I have received a well-informed tip that there are income tax discrepancies involving the returns of Harold J. Gibbons, a Vice President of the Teamsters Union in St. Louis … Gibbons, you should know, is an all-out enemy, a McGovernite, ardently anti-Nixon … Please see if this one can be started on at once and if there is an informer’s fee, let me know. There is a good cause at which it can be donated.”